Hatmaker to the stars

By Drum Digital
18 August 2010

HER shop is a little slice of paradise on the otherwise cold, drab streets of Pretoria’s CBD. Passersby stop to admire the flashes of colourful hats on display in the window while inside women flutter around her lively creations like sunbirds drawn to beautiful flowers. Her shop might not have been open for long but business couldn’t be better.

Thembi Mabule has become the first port of call for celebrities, businesswomen and politicians and their wives looking for fancy headgear to wear to their glamorous do’s. What started three years ago as a small business venture from home has grown into a remarkable little operation with a big name in the fashion industry.

Thembi is one of South Africa’s few black milliners (hat makers or sellers) and has worked with designers Obakeng of OB Fitted and Lebo Mashile of LeboMash and was invited to exhibit her creations at last year’s Sanlam Fashion Week in September. Thembi also supplies luxury Sandton boutique Pallu, which dresses the likes of actress, radio and TV presenter Thami Ngubeni, businesswoman Zanele Mbokazi, actress Rosie Motene and Top Billing’s Jeannie D. This year socialite and designer Uyanda Mbuli and Generations actress Sophie Ndaba wore her creations to the Durban July.

We meet the stylish 27-year-old at her shop, Till Thembi Innovations, and the place is buzzing with customers browsing the rows and rows of colourful hats, fascinators, bonnets and fedoras.

Thembi has a hat for every season, every occasion and every kind of woman – and man. Some are simple and small with subtle detail, others are big and wild with feathers, sequins, spirals and outrageous shapes.

“I’ve been surprised by how many clients I’ve had in the few weeks since I opened this shop,” she says proudly before attending to a group of ladies who need custom-made hats for a family tombstone unveiling.

“I’m so sorry, I should actually close the doors so we don’t get interrupted,” she says once she’s taken the orders and seen the ladies out with big smiles on their faces.

And, she tells us, these ordinary women are her biggest clients – the people responsible for launching her career.

IT ALL started when a little girl in the rural town of Sterkfontein near Polokwane in Limpopo grew bored of playing with her friends and her dolls. Instead she started to venture into the yard looking for interesting things to play with. The old saying goes that curiosity killed the cat, but in this case curiosity turned this little girl into a successful businesswoman.

Read the full article in DRUM of 16 August 2010

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